There’s this famous quote that’s been attributed to various people over the years (Laurie Anderson, Steve Martin, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello, Thelonius Monk, Clara Schumann, Miles Davis, George Carlin, to name a few), but was probably coined by Martin Mull; ”Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.”
While I can see the point the quote is making, I’m inclined to disagree somewhat. It is true that the experience of music does not really transfer into writing, but there is still a lot one can learn about music through reading. I am a passionate reader of biographies and musical literature, and it’s been a constant source of insight and knowledge to me.
Usually, my favorites are the ones that take you inside the creative process of an artist, let you inside the recording studios, the rehearsal rooms, the philosophy and the inspiration. The more gossipy ones that focus mainly on the private lives, addictions, divorces and scandals of the artists are generally less interesting to me, but of course there are exceptions. I mean, ’The Dirt’ is obviously a highly entertaining read.
In the Billy Momo mini-documentary ’The dirt road to Seven Rivers Wild’ Orren jokingly refers to me as a ”human encyclopedia”, which is quite an exaggeration of course, but I do enjoy collecting little nuggets of musical trivia, connecting dots, and discovering context. So it was with great pleasure I came home the other day to find a new book in my mailbox, Andrew Greenaway’s ’Frank talk: The inside stories of Zappa’s other people’. Basically it’s a collection of interviews with various FZ alumni, and I’m devouring it like a dog attacks a sausage.
I usually share a list of ”recommended listening” in my posts, but today I thought I’d share some of my favorite books about music, so that you may also have the pleasure of reading them.
SOUL MINING: A MUSICAL LIFE – DANIEL LANOIS A beautiful memoir by the legendary producer/musician/artist Daniel Lanois. It has atmosphere dripping from every page, much like the man’s music.
A CHANGE IS GONNA COME: MUSIC, RACE & THE SOUL OF AMERICA – CRAIG WERNER
A thorough analysis of how music has been part of the civil rights movement in the U.S. Deeply fascinating, should be required reading in school.
ONE TRAIN LATER: A MEMOIR – ANDY SUMMERS
The Police guitarist writes poetically and beautifully, he could easily have pursued a career as an author instead of playing with one of the biggest acts in the history of popular music.
ACROSS THE GREAT DIVIDE: THE BAND AND AMERICA – BARNEY HOSKYNS The story of one of the most influential music groups of all time, written by one of the best music writers around. Very insightful and revealing.
BODY AND SOUL – FRANK CONROY This is a novel, unlike the others, but it is by far the most beautifully written book about the experience of being a musician I’ve ever come across. This one actually manages to dance about architecture! Warning: You will cry. A lot.
DEAR BOY: THE LIFE OF KEITH MOON – TONY FLETCHER Speaks for itself, really. A crazy ride through a life lived in the fast lane. Entertaining, legendary, and also surprisingly moving.
TRAVELING MUSIC: THE SOUNDTRACK TO MY LIFE AND TIMES – NEIL PEART The drummer/lyricist of Rush literally takes a road trip as well as a trip down memory lane as he listens to various albums along the way. A combined travel book and memoir.
IN COLD SWEAT: INTERVIEWS WITH REALLY SCARY MUSICIANS -THOMAS WICTOR
Exactly what it says on the tin. Gene Simmons, Peter Hook, Jerry Casale and especially the truly one of a kind Scott Thunes in personal portraits of a lifetime in music.
LORDS OF CHAOS: THE BLOODY RISE OF THE SATANIC METAL UNDERGROUND – MICHAEL MOYNIHAN AND DIDRIK SODERLIND A modern classic, investigating one of the most truly bizarre subcultures to ever emerge in music. Remember the early 90s, people?
REDNECKS AND BLUENECKS: THE POLITICS OF COUNTRY MUSIC – CHRIS WILLMAN
The political landscape of the U.S. viewed through the Country music industry. An often surprising read, tremendously insightful and educational.
THE REAL FRANK ZAPPA BOOK – FRANK ZAPPA AND PETER OCCHIOGROSSO
Not exactly a memoir, but rather part behind the scenes revelations, part political manifesto and part pure entertainment. Funny as shit.
BILL BRUFORD: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY – BILL BRUFORD
Typically British dry wit and a generous dose of sarcasm make Bruford’s recollections bitingly funny, while at the same time displaying a never-ending quest for musical discovery and progress. Inspiring!
CHRONICLES – BOB DYLAN Beautifully written, as one would expect, a real treasure chest of musical history, and language that flows like wine. Supremely good.
FARGO ROCK CITY – CHUCK KLOSTERMAN Hysterically funny and strangely clever writing about being a metalhead back in the 80s. You will laugh your ass off while being nostalgic for an era you thought you despised. Possibly the funniest book you’ll ever read.
There should be something here for everyone. Enjoy!
We all have our own roots, don’t we?
Even though my musical background has been influenced by where I was born and when, I doubt anyone else share my musical upbringing. In modern times, where I live, there’s not much musical heritage being voluntarily upheld. We all got our own music history. This is mine.
I was three when my big brother found our parents’ Beatles-collection. This was the first time music became an activity for me. We would sit and listen for hours. Sometimes we drew, sometimes we sang along, sometimes we just listened. It wasn’t the first band I ever heard, but being the first I really listened to, it sort of set the standard for how I would listen to music.
To me, the genius of the Beatles is in the attitude. They seem to never really have cared about what people would think or what they might expect. Everything sounds so naturally free. Free of any sort of boundaries. The attitude to reality in general I guess, that’s what I think made them. And that coloured my whole perception of music. Listening to music became one of our favourite things to do thanks to the Beatles and of course, after having dived so deeply into the complete Beatles collection that we would never really get out again, we started exploring further.
My big brother was my best friend. We did everything together. And he was quite the explorer when it comes to music. Me and my brother found Joakim Thåström when I was about five. He performed on a big Swedish support gala for ANC, the anti-apartheid movement, if you remember. I think it must have been aired on TV, because I remember seeing it before we had the album. His performance was my first real musical chock. A genuine “what in the holy fuck is this??!”-moment.
He had this raw and totally destructive energy. He really was punk rock in a body. He radiated self abuse. I had, luckily, no experience of people with that sort of problems, but I believe I felt him. And since that discovery, every person I’ve met with abuse problems of any kind, have reminded me of him. He was then in a band called Imperiet. They were a sort of post-punk pop/rock band. Very 80’ies I guess. To me, the songs were beautiful and honest. And Thåströms energy felt unique in every way. Imperiet albums would now be at the top of my wish list for birthdays and Christmas for many years to come. Still love them.
I think I must have been eight when my brother found Run DMC. I really don’t know how it happened. He was ten. None of our friends were into hip hop. There was no internet and only two channels on TV. Absolutely no music videos. I don’t think we even knew about the concept. But he found them, somehow. As soon as he was allowed to take the subway into town on his own, he started going to this store called Vinyl Mania. And sometimes he took me with him. They had everything in urban music. It was a dream!
We always recorded everything on cassette tape. I can’t remember exactly why. Maybe our dad taught us to do that so we wouldn’t fuck up the vinyls, listening so frequently to music. Anyway, we had been doing mix tapes for years, but when hip hop was introduced to us, we got inspired to take it to the next level. I remember how we worked for hours on our “Mary mix”, which was our chopped up version of Run DMC’s “Mary Mary”, made by recording it from vinyl through the air, using the pause button on the tape recorder. “Ma-ma-ma-ma-Mary Mary, wh-wh-why you buggin?”
We went through most of hip hop in the next four-five years. Erik B and Rakim, LL Cool J, EPMD. I remember getting my handprinted Public Enemy-jacket when I was nine. It was summer and one of the girls in my class accused me of wearing it just because I thought it was cool and not because I needed it to keep me warm. Well, duh! It was T-shirt weather! Of course I was wearing it because it WAS cool! I remember hearing NWA for the first time. It was almost too much! I was now determined to become a classical guitarist and a rapper.
Just like the Beatles, I knew no boundaries. When I was twelve, all of a sudden we were punk rockers. Just like that! I love that about kids. We saw no shame in changing our minds. Whatever sucked yesterday can always rule tomorrow. I don’t know if I had any real revelations musically in this period, it was maybe more about the lifestyle and the culture, which I knew at this point was just as important as the actual music. What did happen, though, was that I found myself on a stage at some sort of carnival at summer camp, with hundreds of kids watching – or at least being there. I sang a Swedish punk song and it was an amazing experience. But more than the actual performance was the sound of an electric guitar through a guitar amp with some distortion. That was powerful! I decided then and there that I had to have a band.
Of course, my brother was way ahead of me. He was already starting one and they wanted me on guitar. I had played classical guitar on and off since I was eight, never really falling for it, but I knew some chords and lord! This was something different. At the youth centre they were more than happy to help us out with gear and rehearsal time. This was now our whole world. We were gonna be big. I had always dreamed about a music career. Now I could taste it.
Through the Clash and “Rock The Casbah!” we drifted into more groove oriented styles of music. Fumbling at first, with disco inspired rock tunes like Rolling Stones “Miss You” or the Clash “Magnificent Seven”, but later getting into the real thing. Earth Wind And Fire, Anita Ward, Gloria Gaynor, the whole thing. This later moved into funk. And there they were. Funkadelic. I guess those early ventures into the Beatles catalogue made us receptive to that spaced out, fucked-up-on-acid sound. We were simultaneously discovering acid house and that whole scene at this time. We were ready for some real freaks.
Discovering P-Funk is of inevitable when exploring funk music. We first hit “One nation under a groove”. I loved it, but at first I was so hung up on that four-on-the-floor disco groove, that I had a hard time with most of the rest of the material. That changed, though, the more we listened. By the time we got as deep in as to “Music for my mother”, the first single they made as Funkadelic (they were earlier called the Parliaments, which was changed to Parliament, a parallel group to Funkadelic, with pretty much the same members but a pretty different sound), we were sold.
Funkadelic was going to be my greatest influence by far. I was maybe fifteen. I was determined to become a musician, though I had not quite found myself as one. Funkadelic taught me everything. Groove, dirt, blues, guitar solos, oh my god, the guitar solos! and again, complete lack of boundaries. But most of all, balls and attitude. It is impossible to be more confident than George Clinton was in 1969-1975. There are many cocky artists out there, many to be deeply admired for their lack of fucks to give, but no one beats George.
After discovering Funkadelic, it’s all a blur, really. I never stopped listening to the Beatles or Imperiet and I got back to rap music later on, I discovered Johnny Cash, Wu-Tang Clan, Lee Perry and the Upsetters, Manu Chao, Amadou and Mariam, Ennio Morricone, Prodigy and thousands of other artists, well known or well hidden. Nothing compares to the experience of falling in love with Funkadelic. I can’t explain it, because words are futile in context. They did to funk what the Beatles did to rock’n roll. They totally ruined it. Made it something so much bigger, built a whole world of it. And once you’re there, you can’t get out. I’m still lost!
After this, there’s only two more things. First, writing songs with Barba. Discovering that I can communicate on that level with someone, was huge. Second, Prince live in Gothenburg 2007. And I won’t try to describe that one. I don’t know how exciting it is to read about all the stuff I’ve listened to. But there is no better way to know me, as a songwriter as well as a person. If you got this far reading, you know pretty much everything about me. /Oskar Hovell aka Orren
Up until very recently, Orren would refuse to acknowledge jet lag as a real phenomenon. I’m just gonna leave that there.
Most people whom I would consider artistically creative, tend to thrive at night. I know, it sounds like a terribly clichéd stereotype, but I really think it is true for the most part. The outside world slows down, gets quiet, and that’s when the fun begins. The creative juices start to flow, as the drudgery of daytime existence grinds to a standstill.
I mean, I can be productive during the daytime, in an assembly line kind of way, I suppose, but my creative thoughts lie fairly dormant throughout the day. All that sweet, exciting stuff tends to come out when I get to turn on the colored lights and the smoke machine at Club Purjo, put on some amazing music and read a book that blows your hair back, to paraphrase Will Hunting.
All those great existential conversations with a close friend, or for that matter, a new acquaintance you’re just learning to know and find endlessly fascinating, where you take the plunge into the deep end and then just drift away on a stream of consciousness where concepts are shared, dreams are born and new galaxies of the mind are discovered, how many of those have you had during a lunch meeting in a crowded restaurant? I personally can’t think of one, but then, my memory does get more selective with each year, it seems, so maybe I’m mistaken. But I know with absolute certainty that I have had most of them late at night.
I sometimes go into a state that feels like a shark in a feeding frenzy, when I have an urge to learn about something, and I will look up every documentary or article on that topic I can find online, search my bookshelves, and sit at the kitchen table with my laptop and a pile of books all night, and just gorge myself on all the cool shit amazing individuals have said or done. But rarely do I have these urges while the sun is up and people move around me like sneaky predators trying to suck the marrow out of my life and eat my soul. Nope, that good shit only hits when nothing’s up but the rent, dammit.
When it comes to writing music, most of my inspiration comes out of moments like those described above. A sea of thoughts and emotions will ever so slowly boil down into a savory broth of an idea, which will eventually find its home in a piece of music. This is my creative process. So, while I’m no vampire, I am nocturnal in the sense that I need those late nights of exploration and meditation to feel alive.
Or, maybe it’s just the booze talking? I don’t know, and I don’t give a shit. I’m gonna stay up late tonight. Turn on that smoke machine, baby! Let’s rock! (Tony Lind, aka ‘Gramps’)
I’ve always been fascinated by music scenes.
Seattle and grunge, New York and hiphop, L.A. and 80’s rock, Laurel canyon and singer/songwriters, San Fransisco and the flower power scene and so on.
Those are all American of course. But England had Bristol and trip hop, Norway had black metal and Swedens Umeå had the hardcore scene in the 90’s with Refused and similar bands. I’ve never been a part of a scene like that. I think I would love it. I get super inspired when people I know get a break and make it big or make a super obscure but amazing album that gets good reviews in underground blogs or whatever. It pushes me to try harder at whatever I’m doing at the moment.
But these days it’s really hard to reach through the noice with your music. And whenever people manage to carve out a spot in the limelight for themselves they don’t want to share the space.
I can understand that ’cause I know how much work it takes to get ahead. I can see why people tend to be a bit defencive of their spot. But it’s still a drag. I’m not saying I’m not a part of the problem. I’m probably just the same as any other musician. I just wish that I could somehow change the attitude in the business to a more collective kind of focus. Let’s make something really cool, together. Even though we’re not in the same band or whatever.
Let’s do a tour, a collaboration on a track, cameos in videos. Not because it’s a career move or looks good on the CV. Let’s do it ’cause we all love this thing. It’s fun!
Maybe by writing this I can remind myself to be more open to it. And at least that’s a start, ey?
Do you sometimes read or hear about extraordinary people doing great deeds, changing the world for the better and are you then thinking to yourself “Fuck! I should have been one of those guys!”
I do, sometimes. When our fans write to us, when we see them at shows and when I see the things they do for us. The way they selflessly and without ego dedicate their time and energy to spread music, it awes me every time I see it.
I’m a music fan of course. I go to concerts, I tell my friends about new bands I’ve found and so on. I have posters on my wall and I think Ennio Morricone is probably God. But I dedicate my time and my great efforts into spreading my own shit, boosting myself, telling the world about my own greatness.
The way our fans interact, showing us and everyone else their enthusiasm, giving us all the extra energy we need and at the same time spread our music, is of course great for us. But we are not the only band that enjoys this. Fans and independent bloggers, putting in ten times as many hours into finding new music than any A&R have ever done, keep fighting to introduce us to new, formally unknown, great music!
Even though a lot has changed, still a few powerful people hold more or less monopoly on the channels that spread music to the world. We often come across those guys. They generally seem mysteriously uninterested in new music. There seem to be almost nothing that tires them more than having to hear a new band play.
I don’t know how many music biz VIPs I’ve heard claim they know a hit when they hear one. And I didn’t really believe any of them. They know a marketing plan when they see one, they know a guy who knows all the right people when they meet one, they know a significant sync when they see one and they know heavy rotation on a radio station when they hear it. But most of all, nowdays, they know a youtube hit when they see one. And guess who made it a Youtube hit? You did.
Fans, we love you. Not just because you are rubbing our egos, but because you are crucial to the survival of music innovation. Fighting that monopoly, finding other ways to spread interesting music. Because you guys, if any, know a hit when you hear one!
As I get older, I find myself craving silence more often than I used to. During periods when we are playing lots of shows, or especially when we are working in the studio, this becomes even more important. Oh, I certainly listen to a lot of music, just not every single moment of the day, which used to be the case. I would wake up to music, and have a constant soundtrack running throughout the day. These days, I have a bit of a problem with ”background music”. If I’m not listening attentively and intentionally, I often prefer not to have any music on at all. I know that this is not a very rock’n’roll thing to say, but I am rock’n’roll enough to not give a fuck.
The place where I tend to do most of my recreational listening is in the car. Before long drives I often prepare a playlist of stuff I intend to listen to, albums and artists I’ve been meaning to check out. I also have several go-to playlists, one of which is my ’Singalong’ collection, which are tunes I enjoy singing, and that give my voice a good workout. Since I often do the high harmony parts with Billy Momo, I try to work on my upper range, and have songs that stretch me a little bit.
We also have a joint playlist in the band, ’The Billy Momo toolbox’, where we all add songs that we feel somehow relates to what we do. Now, when I say ”relates to”, I use that term very loosely, and the playlist is sprawling as all hell, but it’s got a lot of great stuff in there, and we sometimes crank that playlist in the PA before our shows.
I also listen to a lot of music that doesn’t really appeal to most of the other guys in the band, so when I’m alone in the car, I try to enjoy that stuff, lots of Prog Rock and Metal, Zappa, Jazz/Fusion, Classical, and, of course, sugary sweet ballads.
Traditionally, Friday night is Movie Night at Club Purjo, but I often listen to music as well, and then I turn on the smoke machine and the colored lights and blast cool, moody music into the night, Miles Davis’ ’In a silent way’, or ’The Rite of Spring’, or Pink Floyd.
Oh, and for that hungover Sunday mornin’ comin’ down, there must be Country music, what else?
Here are some tunes to carry you through the week:
Monday: ’Breakdown’ – Prince
Tuesday: ’You Suck’ – Strapping Young Lad
Wednesday: ’Wings Of Love’ – liv
Thursday: ’Lungs’ -Townes Van Zandt
Friday: ’Echoes’ -Pink Floyd
Saturday: ’I-95’ – Fountains of Wayne
Sunday: ’The Blower’s Daughter’ – Damien Rice
What are your listening habits, folks?